Cape Horn

For our November hike we chose the Cape Horn trail. We had wanted a hike that was a little shorter than our normal trips since Heather had just run her first race in awhile. The 7+ mile loop around Cape Horn fit the bill perfectly and it was a good time for a visit given the full loop is closed from February 1st to July 15th due to nesting Falcons.

Just 30 minutes from the Portland airport the trailhead is located at the Skamania County Transit Park & Ride lot near milepost 26 along State Highway 14 at Salmon Falls Road. The all volunteer Cape Horn Conservancy works with the United States Forest Service (USFS), Washington Trails Association (WTA), and Friends of the Columbia Gorge (FOCG) to maintain and improve the trail here which was evident by the well maintained trail and abundant signage along the way which began at the trailhead.



Cape Horn Trailhead//

Almost immediately after crossing Salmon Falls Rd. and starting on the trail we faced the choice of going clockwise or counter-clockwise around the loop. We stayed to the right heading counter-clockwise and began climbing up toward the viewpoints on top of Cape Horn.


Our first good views were to the north as the trail neared some power lines where several snow dusted peaks were visible.
Lookout Mountain

Silver Star Mountain, Little Baldy, and Bluff Mountain
Silver Star, Little Baldy, and Bluff Mountain//

The trail then crossed over to the Columbia Gorge side of Cape Horn for our first unobstructed views of the Columbia River. The Sun had just crested over Larch Mountain to the southeast and was creating some glare limiting the views. A cold wind was racing down the Gorge which made it a little too chilly to spend much time at any of the viewpoints which was too bad because they were nice enough to warrant a longer stay.
Columbia River from the Cape Horn Trail//


A little bit of ice at the viewpoint.//

The trail then dropped down away from the Gorge (and out of the wind) briefly joining an old roadbed and then climbing to a crossing of paved Strunk Rd. where the trail passes through grassy fields on a gravel road.


The next viewpoint of the Columbia Gorge was the Nancy Russell Overlook which had recently undergone some repairs. A long stone bench in the overlook offered plenty of space for hikers to relax and soak in the view, but again the cold wind wasn’t going to allow us to enjoy it for long.

Columbia River from the Cape Horn Trail//

The trail began to descend after the Nancy Russell Overlook switchbacking and passing yet another viewpoint on it’s way down to a tunnel beneath SR 14.



Yet another viewpoint awaited on the other side of the highway.


A nice waterfall cascaded down a grassy slope near the viewpoint.

The section that is closed for the Falcons begins shortly after that viewpoint but that wasn’t an issue now so we continued on. After another series of switchbacks the trail began to head back leading us east parallel to the river. The wind was really whipping down closer to the river and we were blasted by it every time there was a break in the trees. We passed an unsigned side trail to the right and momentarily paused wondering where it might go. After continuing on for a minute or so it dawned on us that it had likely led to an overlook of the railroad tracks as they headed into the tunnel beneath Cape Horn. We began looking for the other end of that side trail to rejoin the main trail and spotted it at a set of trail signs. We turned right and headed out to check out this unsigned trail. It led to a series of grassy viewpoints and the view of the railroad tracks as we had suspected.


Railroad entering the tunnel beneath Cape Horn//

The wind along here was so strong that we struggled to not be pushed around by it. It was a challenge to try and stand in one spot for anytime at all. We followed the side trail all the way back to the unmarked junction we had wondered about earlier and then resumed our hike on the main trail. Another windy viewpoint awaited not far ahead where three unique rock formations where visible. From this spot Cigar Rock, Beacon Rock, and Phoca Rock were all visible.

Cigar Rock is the tall column of rock on the left, Beacon Rock is in the distance straight ahead, and Phoca Rock is in the middle of the Columbia to the right.
Cigar, Beacon and Phoca Rocks//

After fighting with the wind attempting to take pictures of the rocks the trail turned uphill passing through an interesting rock field below some cliffs.


As we crossed the rock field we got our first view of Cape Horn Falls.
Cape Horn Falls//

The falls were a delight. A small rainbow appeared and faded at the base of the falls as wind gusts blew the cascade from side to side. The footbridge below the falls was somewhat protected from the wind allowing us to spend some time watching the water dance in the wind.
Cape Horn Falls//



Rainbow beneath Cape Horn Falls//

Beyond Cape Horn Falls the trail continues through the trees below the cliffs until it finally drops down to Cape Horn Road.


The paved road acts as the trail for the next 1 1/4 miles passing farmland below Cape Horn.
Cape Horn from Cape Horn Road on the way back up to the trailhead.//

The trail leaves the road just prior to reaching SR 14 leading to another tunnel and than a short climb to complete the loop.

The hike was just what we were hoping for. Not too long (7.3 miles) but packed with views and diverse scenery. Happy Trails!


Oregon Caves National Monument

We’d slept well after our dinner in the Dining Room of the Chateau at the Oregon Caves and woke ready for the final hikes of our vacation. We had reserved tickets for the 10am cave tour so we had plenty of time to eat breakfast at the cafe, explore a little of the historic district, and work on the puzzle sitting out in the Chateau’s lobby.




We checked in at the Visitor Information Center at 9:30 and picked up our tickets. The cave tours are limited in size to 15 people and can fill up quickly during the busy summer months, but on this day there would only be 8 of us on the tour. Like the rest of the Siskiyou Mountains the area began as part of the Pacific Ocean seafloor that was later lifted by the North American Plate as it scrapped over the ocean bottom. The Oregon Caves are mostly made up of marble which was formed by the “skeletons” of marine organisms. Later the caves formed as rainwater from the ancient forest above dissolved the surrounding marble and created a special marble cave system.

The tour was led by a ranger who let us know that bats had begun to settle into the cave for the coming winter months and not to use camera flashes where bats were present. We passed several small bats near the entrance to the cave clinging to the rocks.
Bat above the path toward the right hand side of the picture.

Harvester spider in the gray triangle (upper left) and a bat directly ahead and above.

Lights in the cave made it possible to get some pictures without needing a flash so I experimented with and without using one with varying degrees of success.









Our favorite part of the tour was a side trip up to a room called Paradise Lost which is only part of the tour when time allows. Luckily we were making good time and the ranger led us up the stairs and into the room.




Near the cave exit we were asked if anyone was deathly afraid of spiders. Harvester spiders had also begun moving into the cave and forming clumps on the walls and ceiling.

The tour lasts 90 minutes and covers about a mile including the .3 mile walk back down to the Visitor Center after exiting the cave.


In addition to the cave tour the monument offers a number of other hiking opportunities and we planned on checking out the Big Tree Loop before leaving.

The highlight of the Big Tree Loop is a 14′ diameter Douglas Fir, the widest known to exist in Oregon. The trail gains a good deal of elevation over a fairly short distance making it a moderate hike.

As we climbed through the forest we spotted several birds including an owl that silently flew by and landed in a tree ahead of us.



Big Tree may not have been as large as some of the redwoods we’d seen at the beginning of our vacation but it’s size was more emphasized due to the much smaller surrounding trees.


After a little more climbing we began descending back down toward the Visitor Center. Just over 1.5 miles from Big Tree we arrived at a junction with the Cliff Nature Trail.

We faced the choice of turning right and ending our hike back at the Visitor Center in .3 miles or taking the Cliff nature Trail .4 miles past a viewpoint and then down to the Cave Exit for the additional .3 miles to the parking area. We chose the nature trail. 🙂

We climbed to the viewpoint and discovered we were not alone.





We were nearing the end of our trip and we’d seen an amazing variety of animals during the 7 days, but one we had not seen was any black-tail deer. We had expected to see at least one in the Red Buttes Wilderness but had not and we hadn’t even seen one while driving to our various destinations. As we were coming down the paved path from the cave exit for the second time at a switchback there stood a deer.

It had taken over 80 miles of hiking but there in the last quarter mile were two black-tail deer. They looked up at us and then went back to grazing as we passed by.



We headed home both tired and refreshed. It had been a wonderful trip full of unique sights and beautiful scenery and was a perfect way to wrap up our main hiking season for 2015. We’ll scale back to one a hike month for a while so Heather can focus on her running and I can work on next years adventures. Happy Trails!


Red Buttes Wilderness Day 4 – Azalea Lake and beyond.

We woke up early on the final day of our trip and began packing up under a full moon.

We had been having a great time backpacking but we were also looking forward to our reservations for that night at the Chateau at the Oregon Caves. We said goodbye to Azalea Lake and climbed back up to the saddle between Figurehead Mountain and Buck Peak watching the sun color the clouds as it rose.





Preston Peak


It was a beautiful morning as we retraced our route from Monday in reverse. We skipped the .1 mile side trip to Cirque Lake and paused at Sucker Gap for a snack.
Swan Mountain from Sucker Gap

A little over half a mile beyond Sucker Gap we spotted another pair of hikers making their way up the trail. I don’t know who was more surprised, but we all had shocked looks on our faces. They hadn’t expected to see anyone else on the trails. They were from Medford and on their way up to Sucker Gap and then going to head off-trail up either Swan Mountain or Pyramid Peak. We informed them that they had broken a tie between humans seen and bears making the final 5 to 3 in favor of people. They let us know that they had seen our car at the lower trailhead so we knew it was still waiting for us. We arrived at our car close to 1pm and headed for the Oregon Caves National Monument which was only about 20 miles away.

We arrived before check-in (3pm) so we wandered around the gift shop and had a wonderful lunch in the cafe before picking up our room keys. The Chateau was amazing. Considered one of the “Great Lodges” the six story building was originally built in 1934.



Our room

It really felt like we’d gone back in time in the rustic building and immediately felt at home. The Chateau would be closing for the season after the weekend but the staff was very friendly and helpful and dinner in the Chateau Dining Room was excellent. Oh, and Cave Creek flows right through the building which was the icing on the cake. Happy Trails!


Red Buttes Wilderness Day 3 – Echo Lake back to Azalea Lake

It was still raining when we awoke Wednesday morning and we began packing everything we could into our dry sacks. While we were figuring out our strategy on exiting the tent and taking it down, the rain stopped. God had been good and just as the rain began after we had gotten into the tent, it ended just as we were preparing to exit.


We packed up our wet tent and cooked breakfast then headed away from the lake on the Horse Camp Trail downhill toward the Applegate River. It was the steepest trail of the hike but it was well maintained and easy to follow.

We were following a ridge down Echo Canyon until the trail veered away to the right to go around the Butte Slide.

As we passed the slide we descended a series of switchbacks with views of the leftover clouds drifting over the valleys.


We stopped to watch a hawk who seemed to be just as curious about us as we were of him.

The vegetation changed as we lost elevation and we began seeing some different trees including Madrones.



Before reaching the river we arrived at the junction with the Butte Fork Trail which we would take back up to Azalea Lake where we had stayed on our first night. Not surprisingly the trail sign was lying on the ground.

Now is a good time to mention that we had been using the USFS Red Buttes Wilderness topographic map during the trip. It was the only map I could find covering the area and we had it and our compasses as well as our Gamrin 62s GPS unit. The Garmin was of limited use though due to the fact that we were in California and we do not own the California Map so all it could show us was our elevation and where we were in relation to our earlier tracks and waypoints. We were checking the map often so that we were familiar with our route and any markers to expect along the way. Our markers for the first part of the Butte Fork Trail were a small side creek, passing beneath the Butte Slide, crossing the river near Echo Canyon, and then reentering the Red Buttes Wilderness.

The first side creek was a pleasant surprise as the trail passed between a series of small falls.



Things began to get interesting soon after the falls as we arrived at Echo Creek. The trail led us straight to the creek instead of down and across the river.

The trail was hard to see on the other side of the creek but we hopped across the rocks and found it covered in leaves.

We left Echo creek behind and continued on looking for the river crossing we had been expecting, but instead we came to a wilderness sign.

We had entered the wilderness on the opposite side of the river from what the map showed. We double and triple checked the map but we were clearly not where the trail on the map was. The trail crossed another side creek which we deemed to be Hello Creek and kept heading up the canyon on the south side of the river.


As we continued on the trail condition deteriorated. Sections were overgrown and large trees had come down across the trail along the steep canyon hillsides. We climbed over some and under others. A couple of times we had to detour up the steep hillside and crash through a mass of broken limbs to continue on. At one point the trail forked and we headed downhill finally reaching the river near what appeared to be an old campsite. We were hoping that this was the river crossing, but there was no obvious sign of the trail on the far bank nor any way to cross save fording. We returned to the fork and took the left hand fork continuing to encounter numerous downed trees. We hadn’t gotten too far from the campsite when we decided to go back and do a little more searching to see if we couldn’t find away across and possible pick up the trail shown on the map on the north side of the river. As we walked up the river bank a log lying along the hillside on the far bank caught my eye. Looking the area over we could see that it had once been lining a trail but that trail was now washed out leaving a hole on the other side where the trail had been. We now suspected that the trail had been rerouted at some point and that the map had never been updated. We decided to press ahead on the south side of the river hoping that things would improve and we at least would not encounter any obstacles that would make it impossible for us to continue. We could now see sections of the trail on the far hillside lending credence to our reroute theory.

The next marker we would have been looking for after reentering the wilderness was a junction with a trail coming from the Shoofly Trailhead to the north. We had been watching the elevation on our Garmin to give us an idea of where we might be by comparing it to the topo map and we could see we were still at a lower elevation than the trail junction so we were hoping conditions might improve once we made it that far. As we got close to the correct elevation the trail suddenly arrived at a nice bridge spanning the Butte Fork Applegate River.



We happily crossed the river and were finally on the side we had expected to be on. We noticed a trail that had been blocked off with branches coming from the direction that we would have been coming from had we been on the north side of the river which all but sold us on the reroute theory.

Not far from the bridge we arrived at another trail junction marked only by a small stake with “2 1/4” and an arrow pointing uphill written on it. We initially headed up this path thinking that the other trail was just going to lead down to the river, but Heather had a feeling this was incorrect and her gut instincts are usually right so we turned around and took the left hand fork which turned out to be correct. The other trail must have led up to the Shoofly Trailhead.

We were now on a nice trail that clearly saw more traffic than the section we had just come from. Signs of recent horse travel were evident on the trail and there was a nice little shelter along the way.



We had been gradually climbing up the valley and were passing Fruit Mountain when we heard some noise ahead and to our right. A mama bear and a cub were racing back up the hillside and disappeared into the forest. We had now seen as many bears (3) as people on the trip.
Fruit Mountain

Beyond Fruit Mountain our next marker was the one that had most interested us. On the map was the word “Graves” next to the trail at approximately the 4320′ elevation mark. We weren’t sure what we were looking for but it was obvious when we saw it.


Later we learned that a plane crash in 1945 had claimed the lives of four people, the pilot and his three passengers, a husband and wife and her sister whose graves this was.

After the grave site we recrossed a now much smaller river and climbed to Cedar Basin.

We relaxed against one of the large cedars before climbing the final .9 miles to Azalea Lake. We had half expected to find the horseback riders whose signs we’d seen on the trail but it was just us at the lake again for the night. We set up camp at the same site as before and watched the sun go down behind the ridge between Figurehead Mountain and Buck Peak.



Happy Trails!


Red Buttes Wilderness Day 2 – Azalea Lake to Echo Lake

After a good nights sleep at Azalea Lake we packed up and got ready to hit the trail.

We followed the Butte Fork Trail from the lake and headed downhill toward Cedar Basin which was .9 miles away.

At a trail junction in the basin we turned right following a pointer for Fort Goff.

This trail began climbing gradually through beargrass meadows in a forest that had been impacted by the 2012 Fort Complex Fire.


After almost a mile and a half we took a side trail to the right to visit Lonesome Lake where we had originally planned on staying the night before. As it turned out much of the area around the lake had been burned by the same fire and there didn’t seem to be many places to set up a tent.


From Lonesome Lake the trail continued to climb up to the Siskiyou Crest where views extended ahead to the Red Buttes. To Echo Lake, our goal for the day, we would need to make it around the back side of the buttes where we would pick up the Horse Camp Trail and descend a half mile to the lake.


While looking back at the hillsides above Lonesome Lake I spotted something that looked brown and thought that maybe it was a deer.

As I was busying zooming in on a rock Heather spotted a bear moving across the rocky slope to the right of were I was looking. She lost it in this clump of trees but I took a picture anyway. There is a suspicious black thing in front of the trees but we couldn’t tell if it was in fact the bear or if it is a piece of burnt wood.

After crossing over the crest we were now on the Boundary Trail which followed the crest east joining the Pacific Crest Trail on the shoulder of Kangaroo Mountain. The Fort Complex Fire over-swept the entire section of the trail between Lonesome Lake and the PCT as well as a portion of the PCT. This left a lot of burnt trees and some sections of thick brush that has since grown up along the trail.


The brush was the thickest in the first quarter of a mile or so and then it thinned out some. The trail here was a little tricky to follow so we had to make sure we were paying close attention to it’s location both ahead on the hillside and directly in front of us.


The views along the trail were great. With very few trees left we could see unobstructed in every direction. It was a cloudy day but they were high enough in the sky to reveal many of NW California’s peaks, most of which we were unfamiliar with.



Polar Bear Mountain, Preston Peak, and El Capitan

To the NE were some more familiar peaks.
Mt. McLoughlin


Mt. Bailey and Mt. Thielsen

Mt. Thielsen and the peaks around the rim of Crater Lake

We were also beginning to see more and more interesting rocks along the trail.



Often we could see the trail further ahead easier than it was to pick out directly in front of us. A good example of this was the trail leading up and around Desolation Peak.


The trail climbed in a series of switchbacks on the side of Desolation Peak where we were surprised to find some scarlet gilia still in bloom.

Switchback on Desolation Peak

After getting around Desolation Peak we got our first look at Mt. Shasta.


We had passed around Goff Butte, Rattlesnake Mountain, and Desolation Peak and up next was Kangaroo Mountain where we would find the PCT.

Kangaroo Mountain is made up of the same type of red rock, peridotite, as Red Buttes.


We met the PCT on the south side of Kangaroo Mountain and took a celebratory break.

While the Boundary Trail has seen little to no maintenance since the 2012 fire the PCT has been. While we were sitting on a log having a snack we saw our first other humans of the trip. Three members of the Forest Service out on a tree survey were hiking up the PCT and heading back to their vehicle. After a brief conversation they went on and we soon followed heading toward Red Buttes.


Kangaroo Mountain was by far the widest peak that we’d gone around that day and the backside was an interesting mix of rocks with marble outcrops dotting the red peridotite.


We arrived at Kangaroo Spring to find the springs dry although there did appear to be some water further offtrail on the downhill side of the PCT.



Next we passed Lily Pad Lake where several ducks were paddling about.


We were coming out of the burn area and passing a series of meadows that still held a few wildflowers.





We popped out of the trees below Red Buttes near Bee Camp.

A half mile after crossing an old road we arrived at the junction with the Horse Camp Trail and a unique pointer for Echo Lake.

We took a moment to take in the view then spied the lake below us and began the half mile descent to the lake.




We turned left at another pointer for Echo Lake before arriving at the pretty little lake.



We set up out tent and rainfly as the forecast when left had been for a chance of showers Tuesday night and rain on Wednesday.

No sooner had we gotten settled into the tent when it began to rain. The wind blew and the rain fell all night long. We got what sleep we could wondering what Wednesday would be like and just how wet we were going to get. Happy Trails!


Red Buttes Wilderness Day 1 – Sucker Creek Trailhead to Azalea Lake

After spending two days in Crescent City, CA hiking in the Redwoods we headed up Highway 199 to the Oregon Caves Highway 46 and drove to the Sucker Creek Trailhead. We were planning on spending 4 days and 3 nights backpacking in the Red Buttes Wilderness. The wilderness was established in 1984 and encompasses 20,323 acres mostly in California but with some of that area located in Oregon. Running through the wilderness is the crest of the Siskiyou Mountains which include some of the oldest rocks in the region. These began as ocean bottom sediments eventually becoming metamorphic rock uplifted by the North American Plate scraping the ocean floor as it drifted westward across the Pacific Plate.

The trailhead sign was set back behind some vegetation and at an angle such that we missed it the first time by and very nearly did the same as we came back down the road, luckily my wife spotted it just before we drove past again.

The trip had a real wilderness feeling to it right from the start. The trail had the appearance of a less traveled path and the trail signs we did see seemed to have been there for decades.



There were also a few downed trees to navigate our way around or over.

After about 2 miles of climbing we entered a series of meadows where the tread became faint.



Just under 3 miles along the trail we spotted the Sucker Creek Shelter in a meadow below us to the left of the trail. We followed a fairly steep path down to the shelter to check it out and take a short rest before continuing on to Sucker Gap.


Sucker Gap is located at a saddle on a wide ridge with a four way trail junction. We followed the pointer for Steve Fork.

Two tenths of a mile beyond Sucker Gap we took a 100 yard side trail to our right and visited Cirque Lake.


Beyond Cirque Lake the trail began a 2 mile descent to a trail junction where we would head back uphill on the far side of the valley to the Azalea Lake/Fir Glade Trail.




We climbed back up out of the valley only to once again begin descending down the opposite side of a ridge. The vegetation was vastly different on this side of the ridge with plenty of manzanita bushes making up the majority of the underbrush.

We even spotted a butterfly in the area.

We switchbacked downhill for a bit before reaching the junction with the Azalea Lake/Fir Glade Trail where we again took a right.

The Azalea Lake Trail climbed to a pass with some great views above Phantom Meadows.




After passing around the south ridge of Buck Peak we got even better views including Azalea Lake, Mt. McLoughlin, and our first views of Red Buttes.
Azalea Lake and Mt. McLoughlin in the distance



Red Buttes, Kangaroo Mountain, and Desolation Peak from left to right.


We followed the trail down to Azalea Lake and headed around the west side of the lake where the designated hiker camps are. (Horse camps or on the east side.) We hadn’t originally planned on staying at Azalea Lake and had intended to continue on to Lonesome Lake which was another 2.3 miles away, but we were running late and after taking a wrong path leading away from one of the campsites we decided to call it a day and set up camp.


Figurehead Mountain


It turned out to be a great decision. The lake was very peaceful with small fish occasionally jumping and the pine needle covered ground made for the most comfortable night we’d spent in the tent. It had been 13.1 miles from the trailhead to the lake including our little side trips and we hadn’t seen another person all day. What we had been seeing was a lot of poop, more specifically bear poop but we hadn’t spotted any that day. We went to bed tired but relaxed wondering what the next day’s trails would bring. Happy Trails!


Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park – Stout Grove and Boy Scout Tree

On the second day of our vacation we woke up to rain which seemed fitting since our hike for the day was going to be in the rain forest of Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. We decided to start our hike at Stout Memorial Grove and planned on combining several trails leading us past Boy Scout Tree to Fern Falls and back.

We started off on the .5 mile loop through the trees of Stout Grove.




We once again found ourselves confused when we arrived at the Smith River where we couldn’t see a clear trail on the far side of Mill Creek. We had not brought our guide book due to the heavy rain and neither of us could remember from looking at the map at the trailhead where exactly the Mill Creek Trail was supposed to be. After following a faint path into the brush and deciding that was wrong we returned to the trailhead and reviewed the map where we realized that we needed to cross Mill Creek near it’s confluence with the Smith River. A bridge is placed over Mill Creek during the summer but had been taken down for the year so we were left to cross on what we refer to as a “hiker” bridge, typically a jumble of small logs and other pieces of wood.

Once we crossed Mill Creek we easily spotted the continuation of the trail and the well marked Mill Creek Trail junction.

It was nearly 4 miles from the Mill Creek Crossing to the Boy Scout Tree Trailhead. We could have driven to it on Howland Hill Rd but where is the adventure in that? The sights along the Mill Creek Trail were well worth the extra walking.







When we reached Howland Hill Road we road walked for about a quarter mile to the Boy Scout Tree Trailhead.

Had we had a current map with us we would have known that we could have avoided much of the road walk by continuing on the Mill Creek Trail as it recrossed the road twice more before the Boy Scout Tree Trail. The redwoods were magnificent along the Boy Scout Tree Trail but we also had to look down along the way as there were other, smaller sights to see in the forest.





We took the short, unmarked, side trail to Boy Scout Tree at the 2.4 mile mark of the Boy Scout Tree Trail where we found the massive tree.



The trail continued another half mile to the small but pretty Fern Falls.




The rain was letting up as we began our return hike and it seemed to bring out the wildlife which we hadn’t seen much of yet.




By the time we’d made it back to the Smith River the rain had stopped and the clouds began to break up.



It had been a long hike, 15.4 miles, but we were glad we chose to hike the Mill Creek Trail instead of driving between the two trailheads. After all we don’t get to see redwoods everyday. Happy Trails!